Your Wednesday Briefing

Fighters of the Ukrainian Odin Unit, including foreign volunteers, in Irpin, Ukraine.Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Skepticism over Russia’s pledge to ease attacks

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine provided some hint of progress yesterday, even as an imminent end to the suffering remained elusive. Ukrainian officials said the country was ready to declare itself permanently neutral and forsake the prospect of joining NATO.

It was also willing to discuss Russia’s territorial claims in exchange for “security guarantees” from a group of other nations. More talks are expected to follow.

Russia said it would “drastically” scale back its military activity around Kyiv to “increase mutual trust.” But it appears determined to capture more territory in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has installed two separatist statelets that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has recognized as independent but that no other nation has formally acknowledged.

Western officials and security analysts cautioned against taking at face value Moscow’s statements about its aims in Kyiv or elsewhere. President Biden said he would not draw any conclusions about the intentions of Russia and its military forces “until I see what their actions are.” The sanctions on Russia would remain in place, he said.

Tolls: The war has cost Ukraine $564.9 billion in damages and lost economic activity — roughly three times its prewar gross domestic product. There are as yet no reliable estimates of civilian casualties in Ukraine, and about four million people have fled the country, along with about six million who are internally displaced.

History: The Times’s Carlotta Gall covered the rebellion in Chechnya nearly 30 years ago. In Kyiv, she sees echoes of Russia’s brutal siege tactics and targeting of civilians.

In other news from the war:

  • Roman Abramovich, theRussian owner of the Chelsea Football Club, mysteriously showed up at the peace talks and is said to be playing an unofficial role.

  • The authorities in Britain have detained the Phi, a sleek 192-foot-long superyacht owned by an unidentified Russian businessman.

  • Reports of sexual violence involving Russian soldiers are multiplying, Ukrainian officials say.

Christine Lambrecht, the German defense minister, in Münster, Germany, last month.Credit…Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

The women behind Germany’s foreign policy

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new chancellor, has recently broken with the country’s postwar pacifism, vowing to give the nation the necessary resources and muscle it needs to lead on security matters in Europe. Those responsible for carrying out that change — the biggest foreign policy shift in Germany since World War II — are all women.

Christine Lambrecht, the defense minister, is overseeing a rearmament program of 100 billion euros, about $110 billion. Annalena Baerbock, the foreign minister, is devising Germany’s first national security strategy. And Nancy Faeser, who is in charge of homeland security, is organizing the welcome for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

As war rages in Ukraine, it is the first time that women have filled all three national security positions in Germany, putting them on the front lines of a cultural and strategic revolution in their country. “Security lies in the hands of strong women in this government,” Scholz said when he presented his cabinet to the country in November, the first featuring as many women as men.

Background: Scholz’s conservative predecessor, Angela Merkel, made history when she became the first female chancellor in 2005. Germany’s current foreign and interior ministers are the first women to hold the positions.

The shooting was the fifth attack in less than two weeks in Israel.Credit…Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Five killed in attack in Israel

A Palestinian gunman killed five people in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli suburb of Bnei Brak last night, the latest in a series of attacks this month. The attack, outside Tel Aviv, was the fifth in less than two weeks, bringing the total death toll in recent days to 11 — the most people killed by militants in such a short period in Israel in several years.

The attack heightened fears of an even more intense surge of violence over the next month, when the rare convergence of three major religious holidays — Ramadan, Passover and Easter — is expected to raise tensions further between Israelis and Palestinians. The police in Israel said they would begin focusing on counterterrorism and street presence, scaling back other activities, and extending the length of their shifts.

In a statement, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the shootings. Hamas, the Islamist group that is the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip, praised the attack but did not directly claim responsibility for it.

A Hamas official said it was a response to the summit held this week in Israel in which four Arab foreign ministers gathered for the first time on Israeli soil for a diplomatic meeting.

Gunman: The assailant was a Palestinian from the northern West Bank who was jailed for six months several years ago for arms trafficking and membership in a terrorist group, according to reports in the Israeli media. He was shot and killed by the police shortly after the attack.


The Virus

Credit…Hannah Mckay/Reuters
  • Reviving a politically dangerous scandal for Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, the police in London levied fines on 20 people accused of breaching lockdown restrictions at 10 Downing Street.

  • U.S. health officials authorized a second booster shot against Covid-19 for people over age 50, as well as for those 12 and older with certain immune deficiencies.

  • The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is now the dominant version of the virus in the U.S.

  • Shanghai, China’s commercial capital, has put a staggered lockdown in place to curb an Omicron surge.

Other Big Stories

Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times
  • Federal prosecutors and congressional investigators are documenting how a tweet from Donald Trump — “Be there, will be wild!” — became a catalyst for militants before the Capitol assault on Jan. 6, 2021.

  • Gunmen attacked a train near Nigeria’s capital on Monday, killing an unspecified number of the nearly 1,000 passengers on board.

  • Prince Andrew, who was stripped of his military titles after he was engulfed in a sexual abuse lawsuit, escorted Queen Elizabeth II at a memorial service for her late husband, Prince Philip.

What Else Is Happening

  • Scientists have found evidence of cryovolcanoes — frigid mountains that spew ice lava instead of molten rock — on Pluto.

  • There is no level of drinking that does not confer heart disease risk, a study has found, though that risk is small if people drink modestly.

A Morning Read

Credit…Jeff Gilbert/Shutterstock

Amid a series of crises, including the resignation of its leader, Brian Houston, above, Hillsong, once an evangelical powerhouse and a leader of Christian cool, has shed nine of its 16 American churches in a few weeks.


Credit…A.M.P.A.S. Via Getty Images

A costume fit for a pop star

Hours before Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, Beyoncé delivered the first major Oscars moment of the night — summed up by one Twitter post as “Beyoncé looking like a haute couture tennis ball this is incredible.”

The singer opened the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday with her most high-profile televised performance in nearly two years, singing “Be Alive,” her first Oscar-nominated song, from the tennis biopic “King Richard,” surrounded by scores of dancers and an orchestra dressed in their own vibrant neon yellow looks.

The Georgian designer David Koma, who lives in London and was the creative director of the fashion house Mugler, was the architect of that look. “The color was the first thing we decided we would go for,” he said. “Then it was more about the silhouette and what the dress was supposed to look like.”

The eye-catching design is steeped in technical expertise, with the material for Beyoncé’s dress made of recycled transparent sequins, Koma said. This is not the first time he has taken inspiration from tennis, which he has played since early childhood. “Throughout the years, I’ve worked with many different tennis players,” he said, noting the sport’s “strength” and “power.” He added, “How can it not be inspiring?”

The slap: Our critic Wesley Morris saw deeper undertones in the episode between Smith and Rock: In the midst of a celebration of Black achievement, Smith’s Oscar win became a defeat.


What to Cook

Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times

This weeknight meal borrows the flavors of traditional yakitori and applies it to salmon and vegetables.

What to Read

Jennifer Egan’s newest book, “The Candy House,” comes alive in dozens of entwined stories.

What to Listen To

Wet Leg’s debut album has springy bass lines, jabbing guitars and sharp, observational lyrics.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Person you’ve never seen before, informally (five letters).

Here’s today’s Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. Our 2013 dialect quiz “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk” has won a Peabody Legacy Award. Give it a try here.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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